The deputy head of China's space programme says the country will put a man on the moon by 2024.
Long Lehao, deputy chief architect of the lunar probing project, told Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po that the country "possesses the technology, materials and the economic strength" to put a man on the moon.
In earlier reports, Chinese media reported manned missions were being planned for 2017, which was then stage three of the project. However, it now seems China's space programme has four stages, culminating in the manned lunar mission.
Stage one (putting a man in space) has already been accomplished. Stage two, which will see China's first space walk, and will run from 2009 to 2015. Stage three involves sending an unmanned robotic sample-return mission to the lunar surface, and is slated for 2017.
The possibility of mining the moon for its Helium-3 is thought to be a major motivator behind the Chinese space programme. Helium-3 has great potential as a non-polluting fuel source, but there is virtually none on Earth. The moon, meanwhile is relatively rich in the isotope. Although technology to exploit helium-3 is not yet in place, its value as a replacement for oil and gas could be enormous.
Next year China plans to send an unmanned probe to orbit the moon and survey the surface. ®